Isle of dreams for Fleetwood
TOMMY Fleetwood can forget his frustration at failing to retain his Race to Dubai crown – he finished third behind best buddie Francesco Molinari – by becoming the leading man in a star-studded field at the Hero World Championship.
There are only 18 players teeing-up in the coral-based archipelago in the Atlantic Ocean, so it represents a massive opportunity for Fleetwood to notch the victory that has somehow eluded him for more than ten months.
Fleetwood played 19 events on the 2018 Race to Dubai. He won the second, the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship, but otherwise he had seven top tens, including runners-up finishes in the US Open and Alfred Dunhill Links Championship, without achieving the fifth European Tour triumph his golf deserved.
And the 27-year-old from Southport missed only one cut – ironically in the Open de France at Le Golf National where he won four points with Molinari as Europe whipped the USA in the Ryder Cup leading to these brothers in arms being famously tagged ‘MoliWood’.
Fleetwood also flirted with a first PGA Tour triumph – he notched six top tens – so how good would it feel to bring the curtain down on 2018 with a victory in the sun against the likes of World Number Ones Justin Rose, Jason Day, Dustin Johnson, Justin Thomas and Woods, current Masters champion Patrick Reed, rising stars Bryson DeChambeau and Jon Rahm and defending champion Rickie Fowler.
He might not be favourite in such exalted company but based on last year’s debut performance on the 7,302 yards (par 72) Albany course he is a stand-out price to claim the victory that appeared to possibly be his until a third round 74 took the edge away from his front-running opening 66.
Not that Fleetwood, who finished third, or any of the field were given much of a chance on the final day when Rickie Fowler hit an astonishing 61 to win by four from Charley Hoffman.
Fowler is now ‘lauded’ as the best player in the world without a Major although he is even coming under pressure to hang on to that somewhat dubious accolade with the likes of DeChambeau and Rahm, not to mention Fleetwood, all looking to sprout wings when it really matters.
Anyone of those three could relieve Fowler of the Bahamas title, although the American cannot be dismissed after also finishing third in 2015 and 2016, but I strongly fancy Fleetwood with Rahm a huge danger. Former champions at Albany, Hideki Matsuyama and Bubba Watson, are not without a chance, and the revitalised Woods will be eager to win the tournament he hosts. Even so the two that interest me most against Fleetwood and Rahm are Tony Finau and Patrick Reed.
Finau has been impressive despite not winning, and what price would you pay for his temperament, while Reed, since winning The Masters, has gently cast aside all the arrows slung at him and continued to defiantly aim at the target with a will that can only be admired.
Finau’s feat in securing sixth spot in last season’s FedExCup with 11 top tens, including three runners-up finishes, underlines his claims while Reed, a winner six times on the PGA Tour, edged Fleetwood for second place in the Race to Dubai.
Big chance: Tommy Fleetwood